This week, the Internet went (rightfully) crazy because Barbie released a book (and we are just noticing now?) called Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer. Unfortunately, there isn’t one thing about it that could possibly go over well with the female tech community, or the entire tech community, really.
In the book, Barbie is creating a game. Some have taken umbrage with the fact that it is the stereotypical sort of game with cute fluffy animals that typifies what society thinks girls are into. This didn’t bother me so much. While I may be the Halo master in my house, my daughter certainly likes the cute fluffy animal games, so whatever. People also nitpicked about the heart-shaped flash drive but I have something similar, so stop judging.
It was the part of the book where Barbie giggles and explains that she is only designing the game and she needs the boys to come in and actually do the work. I could go on about the stupidity of the information presented, or the offensive idea that girls only care about design, music collections, and pillow fights, but plenty of others have dissected this book online.
The real issue is that Barbie had an opportunity here. Mattel has extraordinary resources, both financial and collaborative, and could have partnered with a myriad of women in tech who know what they are talking about to produce a book that would have sold out. It would have been a best seller. It could have made a huge impact. It could have been as socially responsible and empowering as Barbie says they are. It was the perfect chance to create a catalyst between computer engineering and Barbie fans, showing that technology and femininity are not mutually exclusive. And they failed. They failed at something that should have been obvious and achievable.
On Wednesday, Barbie issued this apology:
The Barbie I Can Be A Computer Engineer book was published in 2010. Since that time we have reworked our Barbie books. The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for. We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girls imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.
Whether or not Barbie is able to repair the damage they have done to public trust, there are other options for girls to express their interest in programming like through the workbooks from Hello Ruby, playing with Robot Girl Lottie, and participating in The Hour of Code.
There are so many programs, toys, experiences, and mentors available. My hope is that Barbie will take this situation and do what women actually do when they are faced with a challenge. Instead of handing it off to the boys, they will apologize, learn from their mistake, and then rise to evolve and adapt.